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Stars and the Evolution of Consciences

6 January 2011 One Comment

Patricia Smith Melton

by Patricia Smith Melton
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women

On December 1, 2010, NASA told us there are three times as many stars as we thought there were. Our common equation before the first of December was that there were 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion stars each.

Now we know that about a third of all galaxies are elliptical (instead of spherical like the Milky Way) and that elliptical galaxies have 1 trillion to 10 trillion stars each. This ups the number of stars in our known universe to 300 sextillion stars. That is three trillion times 100 billion, or a 3 followed by 23 zeros.

People tell me that the difference in our lives between 100 sextillion stars and 300 sextillion stars is inconsequential. We couldn’t comprehend the Regular-Size Incomprehensibly-Huge Cosmos so what difference does it make if we cannot comprehend the Newly-Expanded Incomprehensibly-Huge Cosmos? We will continue to do everything the same—eat, sleep, walk the dog, work, have sex or not, tend friends and family, feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed, dance, exercise, cry, make war, make peace, dream, and pray.

That is, the undergirding questions about being alive on earth remain the same: Who are we? Why are we here? Is there an absolute morality? What are our responsibilities? If the cosmos is so huge and we’re so small, what is important? Do we tithe, go to ancient ruins, become vegan, floss, take up esoteric martial arts?

But NASA’s announcement—even though it seemed to be no more than a one-day news item—took the primal questions out from under the rug, shook them off, and held them up in front of us. I obsessed about them and, as I obsessed, they merged into one question: What is important?

Maybe if we can’t figure out who we are, why we are here, or if there is an absolute morality, we can still “sense” our way to what is important—how to live life well. Something as huge as all of creation must surround us with clues as to what is important.

Entering 2011, I am paying more attention to what’s around me and in me—seeing the pink tinge of the sunset with new appreciation, tracing the silhouette of winter trees in wonder, exploring the feeling of gratitude, accepting that I am a miniscule speck but I think and feel, puzzling out forces of destruction and rebirth, and releasing memories—and this is scary—that defined me.

To the basics: helium, hydrogen, protons, electrons, neutrons, atoms, oxygen, carbon, light, life …  time …  all coming into consciousness. We are star stuff with consciousness and, therefore, we make decisions, i.e. we have free will. That is, with consciousness comes experience, with experience comes awareness of pain and pleasure, with awareness of pain and pleasure we make decisions as to what we like most, and as mobile, tool-using creatures, we take actions to get what we like. We are always in a state of free will in action.

And given that we act out of free will, it is supremely important—an evolutionary step necessary to keep our species alive?—that we have not only consciousness but also conscience-ness.

Many of us have voices in our heads, twinges in our hearts, or wobbles in our interior gyroscopes that tell us “this is good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong.” We feel dis-ease when we are not honest or just. Some of us may experience our conscience less viscerally, or simply strive to discern how best to live alongside others as a matter of principle or even of “enlightened self-interest.” Many of us are also guided by religious tenets that include a version of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

But a healthy conscience always includes the element of unrelenting care for others. It is inclusive, compassionate, and, sooner or later, it requires actions in real time to increase the odds for justice, health, and opportunity to all.

Consciences are not cookie-cutter perfect. They vary between people and with cultures, they are fragile and can be broken early in life, they can be swayed by mob actions or slowly poisoned by bad influences, and they may erode or morph in ugly ways from lack of use. But they are still the best guides we have to build cohesive societies where everyone can thrive, the best prompts we have to create and mend relationships, the best counselors when we are afraid or uncertain, and the best advisors we have to call us to account when we have harmed others.

Without a conscience—or with an impaired conscience that is overwhelmed by anger, fear, lust, or greed—our awareness of other’s experiences is limited and the consequences of our actions don’t concern us. The result is individual harm and, communally, it is wars, decimation of the environment, widespread poverty, subjugation of cultures by other cultures, religious conflicts, and other atrocities.

It could be said that the great evolutionary struggle is one to bring larger senses of our interconnectedness into common consciousness and individual consciences.

I believe that what is important is to live well by caring for and respecting others as we care for and respect ourselves. It is the life-giving and life-enhancing choice we can make out of free will as evolved star stuff opting to be nice to each other on the third planet out from a star located 28,000 light years off center, in the Orion spiral arm, of the Milky Way galaxy.

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One Comments to “Stars and the Evolution of Consciences”
  1. REV. Ikwunze Obioma Israel says:

    The question as to why are we here or what are we here for is a very important one. Yes! Indeed. We must first understand that man is a spirit that have a soul and lives in the body. The physical body is not the real you but your tool of movement. The concept of the origin of man is dated back to creation. You can call it the creation of cosmos, moon and stars but the main thing is that man is far above all these and has the full responsibilities to not only rule over them but as well take care of them. All other things are meaningless for in doing these we are not only serving our creator preserving nature but also helping humanity to understand life. These are the full sum of why we are here on earth for.

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